Published by Philomel Books on February 2, 2016
Genres: YA Historical Fiction
Also by this author: Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy
Source: For Review
I received this book for review consideration from the publisher. This in no way swayed my opinion of the book. Pinky swear!
Want an “at a glance” look at what I thought? Check out my Review On A Post-It or my “Final Thought”
Joana, Florian and Emilia meet as they are making a dangerous trek towards freedom in East Prussia towards the end of the war when the Russians invaded and overtook. They have the common goals of freedom and survival but come from different countries and have different secrets they are carrying on this road to their future. Their future is in the form of a ship, one of many taking refugees to safety, called the Wilhelm Gustloff — a vessel that brings them hope of survival after their harrowing journey until they find themselves on it when it is hit by a torpedo and fighting to survive once again.
Oh man had I been waiting for this one! I loved both of her previous books — Between Shades of Grey and Out of the Easy. She is a tremendous writer and seriously writes some of the best historical fiction out there. It’s so easy to get lost in her books and I always find myself recommending her books the most when people want historical fiction or want to give it a try — with the caveat that Between Shades of Grey will destroy you (Out of the Easy made me emotional but in a different way).
Anyways, Salt to the Sea. INCREDIBLE. I love it when the historical fiction I read makes me want to crack open a textbook to learn more about the time or the events that are related to the novel. She gives you just enough with the historical setting and the details of the event to transport you there but still want to know more about it.
I had never heard about the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy prior to this book. I mean, when I think of maritime disasters I think of the Titanic. But the loss of life when the Wilhelm Gustloff went down? WAY WAY more than even the Titanic. And I never had even heard of it. I loved that Ruta unearthed this piece of history that isn’t well known and humanized it with her wonderful characters.
Knowing that this book was about a sinking ship my feeling from page one was: IMPENDING DOOM. I mean, really. The first half of the story is the dangerous trek that all these refugees make to even get to the ports to evacuate. Then the second half is them being on the ship and trying to survive when they are hit. It’s devastating all around though I’d say if Between Shades of Grey was too hard for you because of the more graphic aspects of what the people went through in the camps, then I’d try this one. It’s a devastating story of survival but in a different way.
There are 4 POVs — Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred. At first I side-eyed the fact there were so many POVs but oh man it worked so well. The chapters were short for each POV and I simultaneously never wanted to leave Joana, Florian and Emilia’s (Alfred creeped me out so I couldn’t wait to be done with his) POVs but I also wanted to get to the next person again. Joana, Florian and Emilia all are on this trek to get themselves to freedom with secrets weighing them down throughout the course of the journey. I enjoyed how the short chapters just had me racing to learn what each character was hiding. I wanted to know what was propelling them forward, besides the obvious freedom/safety/survival, and know what haunted them.
I was so invested in this journey with them and it broke my heart to know, that while fictional, this dangerous and harrowing escape towards (hopefully) freedom gave voice to so many people who really had to do this. I can’t imagine having lived through all the things that happened and then having to pack up what you can carry and leave your home, because things seem to be getting even worse, and muster up enough hope and strength to survive this dangerous journey towards freedom. And the most devastating part? That your passage to freedom wasn’t even guaranteed. Lives lost along the way. And even worse….the vessel of freedom, your last hope, gets attacked. OH MAN my heart. I just wanted to shout THEY HAVE BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH WHY DOES THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN.
Should you read it? Oh yes.
Should you buy it or borrow it? It’s a buy for me! Particularly if you are already a fan of Ruta’s work or historical fiction in general. If you aren’t into historical fiction but want to try it, maybe borrow it to be safe.
fans of Ruta’s previous works, historical fiction fans (doesn’t matter if you don’t normally read YA historical fiction…it’s a great historical fiction book), people who like read about not as well known historical events, historical fiction newbs — I say this because I think it’s going to be my new go-to pick for people who are hesitant to read historical fiction.
Salt to the Sea is a beautiful, emotionally devastating story about tremendous strength and survival in the face of awful tragedies. The impending doom you feel knowing that these characters are heading toward a ship we know sinks is all too real — especially when the road to get there is dangerous on its own. Ruta’s writing and the ferocity of her characters’ voices just absolutely drop you right in the hardships so many experienced on this road to safety and make you feel the pain, loss and general darkness mixed with that buoying feeling of hope, love and freedom all around them. I curled in a ball and sobbed after finishing this book.
* Have you read this one? What did you think? Similar or different from me? I would LOVE to hear regardless! Had you heard of this tragedy before? Who was your favorite character? What gutted you the most? (label spoilers please!)
*If you haven’t read it, does it feel like something you’d be into?